Eight Days East: Halifax

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After a grueling drive of almost six hours from Louisbourg, we arrived in Halifax for the last three days of our trip. We checked into an old hotel on Barrington Street called “The Waverley.” Our room was at the very top, under the roof. No elevator. Really old Victorian furniture, chandeliers in the lobby, and portraits on the walls of long-forgotten people, whose eyes followed us as we climbed the stairs. I thought for sure the place was haunted, but I didn’t glimpse any ghosts during our stay. Our room had sloped ceilings, old wallpaper, and a large, dark wardrobe, as well as a bed with a tall, creepy headboard. I really liked “The Waverley.” We had a nice meal at a nearby pub that first evening, and retired for the night.

The next morning, the four of us walked down to the boardwalk. I literally mean “down,” as the streets were very hilly and steep, leading down to the harbour. I was enthralled with the harbour. I loved the pretty sailboats moored at the docks. I loved the massive ocean liner further out in the harbour, its deep, resonating horn as it headed out to sea. I loved all the stores and the restaurants lining the boardwalk, the fountain where little children played with happy squeals. I loved the fresh, salty breeze coming off the water. The boardwalk was just a happy, relaxed place to be.

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I was very keen to see Pier 21, as my mother and her family had arrived there in 1950, fresh off the boat from Holland. My mom was only seven years old at the time. We visited the museum there, but there was little information they could give us, as there are privacy rules for immigrants arriving after 1935. Mom has lots of info any way. Really, it was great just to see the place and have a little taste of my history and the beginnings of my family in Canada. Dad came in 1949 with his family, but they landed further up in Quebec.

By this time, our daughter and her boyfriend were en route to Halifax themselves. They had procured a place for six weeks so that my daughter’s boyfriend could continue his research on wind turbines for his PhD. When I plugged their new address into my phone, Siri showed me that it was a two-minute walk from the hotel to their front door. We went and took pictures of the outside to send them, as they had rented the place sight unseen.

That night, we had dinner at “The Five Fishermen.” In its former life, the restaurant had been a mortuary. There were many ghost sightings at this place over the years, all documented in their pamphlet. When the Titanic sank in 1912, some of the recovered bodies were brought into Halifax. Even in death, the class structure was quite apparent. The wealthiest corpses were brought to the site of “The Five Fishermen.” We ate dinner under the same roof where John Jacob Astor had been laid out until his family came to gather his remains.

That night, we visited briefly with my daughter and her boyfriend, who had finally arrived after their fifteen-hour drive (compared to a two-hour flight, wowsers…)

The next day, sufficiently recovered from the hours of driving we’d endured after Louisbourg, we headed out to Peggy’s Cove and Lunenburg. I was excited to see the rugged beauty of Peggy’s Cove, but when we arrived there, I realized that there were hundreds of others who equally shared my enthusiasm. The famous rocks of Peggy’s Cove were swarming with people; the place was like a gigantic ant hill. The parking lot was crammed with tour buses, an endless flow of people streaming into the village, climbing up towards the pretty red and white lighthouse. It would have been an awesome place to sit, perched on the rocks and looking out over the ocean, sketching the little houses and docks and overturned boats and piles of rope…I realized as I looked around that I’d seen some of these views before. My Oma loved to make landscapes of places like Peggy’s Cove, and she must’ve copied some of her oils from pictures she’d seen of the place. It was terribly selfish of me to wish I could have Peggy’s Cove to myself. It’s one of those world-famous views (like Stonehenge, also plagued with multitudes of tourists) that lose all their ambiance when people invade.

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Lunenburg was also lovely and picture-esque, and without all the hoards of people. The streets were extremely hilly; in fact, there were times when I could have used a ski lift to get up them. The houses with their various colours and rainbow trims were a pleasure for the eyes. I think my favourite meal of the trip was the seafood au gratin we had down by the water in a nice little restaurant. We also visited a textile art gallery of works by Laurie Swim. Her pieces were so beautiful; I almost wept, just looking at them. My sister-in-law has a passion for fabric art, and after this visit, I got that.

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The four of us took my daughter and her boyfriend out for dinner at The Docks (an enormous restaurant off the boardwalk) on that last night. I had my first oyster, and I have to say, it was a better experience than the lobster one! After that, we walked up to this truly ancient and creepy cemetery down the road from the hotel, and walked around in there, trying to decipher the faded letters on the blackened stones. There were graves in there that were more than 300 years old.

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Later that night, I crept off with my daughter and her boyfriend and we wandered the boardwalk in the darkness and fog, listening to the creepy foghorn moaning across the water, climbing down to a wobbly dock and putting our toes in the Atlantic. We took pictures under the Pier 21 sign for my mom’s scrapbook. I really loved that experience.

The next day, it was time to head home. First, however, I had a chance to explore the grounds of Dalhousie as we set about finding some EastCoast Lifestyle shirts to bring home for my son. Hot commodity, according to my daughter. A really beautiful campus, with its unique brown-stoned buildings.

Now, we are back in Ontario, and I’m getting texts from my daughter about foggy nights on the boardwalk and endless seafood…

What I saw of the east coast was ruggedly beautiful and captivating; my experience there was nothing but wonderful, and the people are as friendly as they are often reputed to be. I would go back in a heartbeat. I think I’d even have a nice (free) couch to sleep on…